(Court of Appeal, Ryder, Vos LJJ, Cobb J, 20 January 2016)
Public law children – Care proceedings – Judgment – Sufficiency of analysisThe mother’s appeal from care and placement orders in relation to the young child was dismissed.
The mother of the 18-month-old child had cognitive difficulties and an IQ of 78. She has six older children who were all cared for outside of the home due to neglect and poor developmental progress. Care proceedings were initiated in relation to the youngest child shortly after her birth due to the recent care proceedings in respect of the older sibling group and ongoing concerns for the mother's ability to parent.
The mother lied to professionals about the identity of the child's father, but when DNA tests confirmed who the father was he was assessed as a long-term carer; however, the result was negative. Assessments in respect of the mother found that she could not be trusted to work with professionals in the future and that the child would be at risk of significant harm in her care.
At the final hearing the judge made final care and placement orders. The mother was granted permission to appeal on the basis that the judgment fell far short of a holistic consideration of the options with no evaluation of adoption at all and no overall balancing exercise. The judge had also failed to adequately address the welfare checklist factors when conducting the analysis.
The appeal was dismissed. The judgment was materially flawed but the orders made by the judge could be justified on the evidence for reasons other than those addressed by the judge.
The Court of Appeal recognised the challenge facing a judge in the Family Court presiding over proceedings of this kind; judges were working under considerable pressure of time, often marshalling complex lay, professional and expert evidence, making crucial life-changing decisions for the parties, often urgently. Although the judge conscientiously sought to grapple with the issues and evidence in his ex-tempore judgment, he fell short in drawing his review of the case to a satisfactory conclusion. Specifically, the judge provided only a perfunctory evaluation and discussion of the long-term options for the child before announcing his final decision.
Taking the judgment as a whole, the judge had sufficiently cautiously trod a path through the earlier, partially tested, evidence and did not place inappropriate or disproportionate weight upon its untested terrain. Justifiably he observed, having reviewed those aspects of the undisputed history which were available to him, that it was staggering that the older children were left at home after social services first became aware of the family in 2004 until 2012 when proceedings were launched, and the children removed.
As the mother had been considered a potential long-term carer for the child, the judge should have gone on to conduct an analysis of the pros and cons of adoption and then compared that to the conclusions on the mother. The CA had sufficient evidence to conduct that analysis. Although the court remained acutely conscious of the effect on the child of ceasing to be a member of her family, her best interests would not be protected or enhanced in the care of her mother. Only adoption would meet her long-term emotional and physical needs.
Case No: B4/2015/3148Neutral Citation Number:  EWCA Civ 3IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)ON APPEAL FROM THE CENTRAL FAMILY COURTHIS HONOUR JUDGE ANSELL ZC14C00034Royal Courts of JusticeStrandLondonWC2A 2LLDate: 20/01/2016
SENIOR PRESIDENT OF TRIBUNALS
LORD JUSTICE VOS
MR JUSTICE COBB
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In the matter of P (a child)
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Peter Horrocks (who did not appear in the court below) (instructed by Morrison Spowart) for the Appellant mother
Pamela Scriven QC (who did not appear in the court below) and Joanna Youll (instructed by Local Authority solicitor) for the Local Authority
The father was present, but not represented
Gill Honeyman (instructed by Hopkin Murray Beskine) for the Children’s Guardian
Hearing dates: 19 November 2015
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